Wednesday, November 22, 2006

New Book Roundup: September/October 2006

The winter months before the ramp-up to the spring publishing season are usually quieter, and this seems like a typical season. I didn't see a whole lot that wowed me, but there are still several books that caught my eye, as always. Here's my latest roundup of books which (based on book reviews, at least) look most promising.


Mothers and Sons: Stories by Colm Toibin
I've been interested in the acclaimed Irish gay writer for a while, but as I'm not the biggest Henry James fans this is the first of his books that strongly appeals to me.

Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras: A Menagerie of 100 Favorite Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
I love books like this, a miscellaneous collection of pieces on a fun general theme--it seems like an opportunity for true individuality on the author's part and the chance to get a quirky point of view.

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
I'll be honest. I'm not sure I'll read this 1100-page novel, but it's definitely got me more excited than most of the books reviewed lately.


Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography by Nick Rennison
Not quite a novel, but clearly fictional, this is a "biography" of Sherlock Holmes. I'm beginning to believe he must have been real to inspire such devotion.

Case of Emily V. by Keith Oatley
This Commonwealth Writers Prizewinner weaves the perspectives of a troubled woman, Sigmund Freud (whom she consults), and Sherlock Holmes (investigating a related crime).

Ice by Vladimir Sorokin
Bizarre new fantasy by a rising star of Russian literature. This story has been compared to X-Files, 4400, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer--oh, and Gogol and Bulgakov.

Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Two: Dance and Dream by Javier Marias
Latest work by an internationally celebrated author who I'm hearing more and more about.

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
This weird mix of postmodernism, science, and science fiction has gotten some hype and some interesting reviews. Might be a good read.

Kockroach by Tyler Knox
Clever reversal of Kafka in which a cockroach wakes up a man. The story apparently takes a very noir turn, so I'm hoping it's got more than just a good premise.

The Magic Ring by Friedrich Heinrich La Motte-Fouque
The original translation of an 1825 fantasy that reputedly influenced Tolkien is back in print.

Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead
I've only seen one review so far, but I like the premise of a boy searching for his father during the chaos of the Civil War battlefields--seems like something an author could really make the most of.

Gob's Grief: A Novel by Chris Adrian
I came across this older novel while reading about the author's new book (The Children's Hospital) and it sounds even more interesting to me, concerning real life historical figure Victoria Woodhull's imaginary twin sons and the Civil War.

Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle
I've heard that The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is bleak but powerful, so I'm keeping an eye out for reviews of Doyle's latest.

Uncertain Endings: The World's Greatest Unsolved Mystery Stories ed. by Otto Penzler
It's one of those things: a month ago I'd never heard of "The Lady, or the Tiger" and now I'm seeing references to it everywhere.

Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu
Consistently strong reviews for this collection that sounds like it could be described as playful pop experimentalism.

Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar
Neil Gaiman introduces this "fey urban fantasy" about two Scottish fairies in Manhattan.

Ultravioletta by Laura Moriarty
Going by the one review I've seen so far, this novel sounds like vintage Samuel Delany, though the reviewer compared it to Borges and Philip K. Dick.

Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
A fantasy that uses interlinked fairy tales in a structure reminiscent of Arabian Nights.

A Grey Moon over China by Thomas A. Day
Near-future story that blends current geopolitical trends with more traditional SF fare (space travel, aliens).

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
Intriguing work of science fiction has been well-reviewed.

Missile Gap by Charles Stross
The Sky People by S. M. Stirling
Two strange books (the first a novella) that relate alternative histories involving Cold War politics. In Missile Gap the world is literally flat, and in Sky People Mars and Venus are both teeming with human-like life, as in classic pulp SF.

The Machine's Child by Kage Baker
The cover's cheesy to the extreme, but the reviews are enticing--sounds like a good blend of SF and historical writing.

Benighted by Kit Whitfield
Fantasy set in a society where most people are werewolves while a one-percent minority ("Barebacks") have second-class status.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Several books for the literary crowd, including What Is the What by Dave Eggers, Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster, Winterwood by Patrick McCabe, Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon and Amulet, the latest in a wave of translated work by Roberto Bolano. Based on initial reviews I'm also interested in several more titles which I'm waiting to see more coverage of: The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies, The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings, The Palestinian Lover by Selim Nassib (inspired by a legend that Golda Meir had an affair with a Palestinian man), City of Glory: A Novel of War and Desire in Old Manhattan by Beverly Swerling, New Dubliners: Original Stories Celebrating 100 Years of Joyce's Dubliners ed. by Oona Frawley, The Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore, Critique of Criminal Reason by Daniela Gregorio (in which Kant mentors a detective), The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields, Other End by John Shirley (a left-wing answer to the Left Behind series), Mother's Boy by Stanley Middleton, Finest Challenge, Vol. 3 by Jean Rabe, A Meeting at Corvallis by S. M. Stirling (3rd in a series), and Margherita Dolce Vita by Stefano Benni. There's also a novel by a descendent of Charles Darwin, Mathematics of Love by Emma Darwin. Lastly, a persuasive Kirkus reviewer singled out just a single story ("The Blinding Order") from Ismail Kadare's Agamemnon's Daughter: A Novella and Stories as a standout.


Read the Beatles: Classic and New Writings on the Beatles, Their Legacy, and Why They Still Matter ed. by June Skinner Sawyers
New anthology of articles about the pieces from the last four decades, including pieces by Greg Kot and Gloria Steinem.

The Adventures of a Cello by Carlos Prieto
I love the idea of tracing the history of a particular instrument through history, but I was a bit disappointed in Stradivari's Genius--I'm hoping this will be better.

Playboy Interviews: The Directors ed. by Stephen Randall
Yes, there's the old joke about reading the magazine for the articles. Apparently these in-depth interviews are excellent, and they include conversations with Spike Lee, Orson Welles, Fellini, Tarantino, the Coen Brothers and Kubrick.

Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity by David Lynch
Federico Fellini: Interviews ed. by Bert Cardullo
Coen Brothers: Interviews ed. by William Rodney Allen
Several new books by or about major directors, including an intriguing peek into David Lynch's creative process by the director himself--think twice before peering into that mind!

City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London by Vic Gatrell
A look at the ribald literary scene of Georgian London--this ain't Jane Austen.

The Aeneid by Virgil, trans. by Robert Fagles
In the Company of Books: Literature and Its Classes in Nineteenth-Century America by Sarah Wadsworth
I'm fascinated at the prospect of learning more about what kind of books people read in the past--the middle classes, the elite, the common workers. It's an academic topic, but this treatment is said to be more enjoyable reading than typical academic fare.

How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide by John Sutherland
A Guardian writer's collected thoughts on the novel, sounds like an excellent gift for fiction fans.

American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work by Susan Cheever
Not as well reviewed as The Concord Quartet but it's an interesting enough topic for several books.

Story of French by Jean-Benoit Nadeau
They say it's a gentleman's language--so why am I interested?

Lynda Hull: Collected Poems by Lynda Hull
Hull's work sounds intriguing. What caught my eye? The comparison to Hart Crane, the fact that she wrote a tribute to Chet Baker, I'm not sure. Apparently she's very well-regarded.

The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery by James Oakes
Sounds like not only a good portrait of two major icons of American history but a study in the political dynamics of reform vs compromise.

The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation by Howard Means
Without Lincoln around to heal the nation's Civil War wounds, it was up to Johnson to step up to the job. So how'd he do?

Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence by A. J. Langguth
Solid reviews for this look at our nation in its youth.

The Sea Captain's Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century by Martha Hodes
Biography of an ordinary woman with a fascinating life that reveals much about the 19C.

Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World by Paul Cartledge
Sounds like a riveting account of one of the most famous battles in history: 300 Spartans against thousands of Persian invaders.

Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey
An 'anti-history' that traces the history of the City of Lights from the perspective of its criminals, immigrants and sexual outsiders. Sounds fascinating.

Blitz: The Story of December 29, 1940 by Margaret Gaskin
In-depth look at a legendary time and place, an occasion of suffering and great courage.

Christianity: The Orgins of a Pagan Religion by Philippe Walter
Book documents the links between Christianity and the pagan religions it incorporated.

Choices under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II by Michael Bess
These days when WWII is often held up as the model of an obviously righteous war, it's good to see someone struggling with the difficult moral questions involved.

American Protest Literature ed. by Zoe Trodd

Dissent in America by Ralph F. Young
Two anthologies that document our history of fighting for and expanding our freedoms.

SCIENCETheories for Everything: An Illustrated History of Science by John Langone, Bruce Stutz, and Andrea Gianopoulos
With short biographies of major scientists and essays and sidebars on all kinds of scientific topics, this sounds like a browser's delight.

Sippewissett: Or, Life on a Salt Marsh by Tim Traver
A blend of natural history and memoir, a notable work of ecology.

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson
A collection of essays by the popular science writer on a range of interesting topics from the scientific (in)accuracy of Hollywood to the whimsical titular subject.

Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know About Food Is Wrong by Barry Glassner
Glassner's Culture of Fear is an amazing book, and it shouldn't be held against him that Michael Moore was also a fan.

Conan Doyle, Detective: True Crimes Investigated by the Creator of Sherlock Holmes by Peter Costello
I should just start a Sherlock corner and be done with it--every two months there's at least one new book of note.

Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw by Maryanne Vollers
Homegrown terrorist who bombed a gay bar, an abortion clinic and the Atlanta Olympics eluded capture for a very long time--five years, right here in the U.S., and the idea that he must have been helped to survive that time has always bothered me.

The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times by Tristram Stuart
A unique topic and the reviewers gush that it's consistently interesting. I'm vegetarian, so how can I skip it?

Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich
I'm a huge fan of Ehrenreich's journalism, and this intriguing title sounds like it's more in her academic vein (companion to Blood Rites) and not necessarily something for the Nickel and Dimed crowd.

Cruciverbalism: A Crossword Fanatic's Guide to Life in the Grid by Stanley Newman with Mark Lasswell
If the documentary Wordplay wasn't enough for you, here's a new book about the crazy world of crossword puzzles.

Noise by Bart Kosko
A deep consideration of the concept of noise--unlikely as it seems, reviewers describe it as a fascinating read, a surprisingly rich topic. I'm skeptical but open-minded.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
Other books that stood out include: Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work by Martin Geck, Jamestown, the Buried Truth by William M. Kelso, The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America by Ray Suarez, Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800 by Jeff Sypeck, What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career by Joseph McBride, George Gershwin: His Life and Work by Howard Pollack, The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation by Richard Vinen, Great Tales from English History (v. 3): Captain Cook, Samuel Johnson, Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin, Edward the Abdicator, and More by Robert Lacey, High School Confidential: Secrets of an Undercover Student by Jeremy Iversen, Safe for Democracy: The CIA and the American Democratic Enterprise by John Prados, and Naked in the Marketplace: The Lives of George Sand by Benita Eisler.

Of Gay Interest:

Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman
A very well-reviewed love story from an acclaimed Egyptian memoirist.

Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins: The Autobiography by Rupert Everett
Everett seems like one of the few actors with an interesting enough life that I'd consider skimming his bio, esp. since he came out in his prime (and seemingly suffered for it), something film actors are still very loathe to do. I wonder what he has to say about that.

How's Your Romance?: Concluding the Buddies Cycle by Ethan Mordden
None of the magazines I read reviewed this when it was published last year, which is par for the course even for a prominent gay author. Now that it's out in paperback I noticed it and thought I'd list it here.

Portrait: A Life of Thomas Eakins by William S. McFeely
Biography of the prominent (and gay) painter.

Also Noteworthy:
Many more titles of interest this time. Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East by Brian Whitaker, Map of the Harbor Islands by J.G. Hayes, A Separate Reality by Robert Marshall, Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir by the prolific Gore Vidal, Somewhere: A Life of Jerome Robbins by Amanda Vaill, Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Birth of the Lesbian Rights Movement by Marcia M. Gallo, Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam, Epidemic: A Global History of Aids by Jonathan Engel, The Last Green Tree by Jim Grimsley, First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth-Century Medical Revolution by Pagan Kennedy, Breathing Underwater by Lu Vickers, plus two more Ginsburg titles: The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems 1937-1952 by Allen Ginsberg and Allen Ginsberg: Collected Poems 1947-1997.

Of Chicago Interest:

The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey
Top-notch reviews for this crime novel set in Chicago. PW: "a must read."

Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability by Laura Kipnis
The Northwestern professor's book has sparked more feminist debate lately than any other book around, I think mostly for the negative.

Limitations by Scott Turow
Turow's latest started out as a serial in the NYTimes.

Also Noteworthy:
The Year of Endless Sorrows by Adam Rapp and
Probable Cause by Theresa Schwegel.

Graphic Work:

Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China by Guy Delisle
I still haven't caught up with Delisle's acclaimed Pyongyang and now he's produced another book getting excellent reviews.

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud
Author of the classic Understanding Comics returns with another acclaimed guide to the popular genre.

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham and various artists
A reimagining of classic nursery stories, in a dark, modern urban vein.

Also Noteworthy:
Bardin the Superrealist by Max and Ode to Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka.



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